NASCAR: Team Penske, Ford continue 2021 misfortunes at Watkins Glen

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - JULY 11: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Advance Auto Parts Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 11, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Although the manufacturer picked up a victory in Loudon a few weeks ago, Ford returned to their struggles last weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen, especially on the Team Penske front. Kevin Harvick was the highest finisher for Ford in 8th, while Penske’s highest finisher was Ryan Blaney in a modest 14th place.

Ford and Team Penske haven’t performed well on road courses this season, but both parties have struggled everywhere season. All three Team Penske drivers picked up victories before May, while the other two victories for Ford in 2021 came with Michael McDowell in the Daytona 500 and with Aric Almirola recently in Loudon. Ford went nearly three months without a victory, dating back to the end of April.

All four Stewart-Haas drivers were decent at Watkins Glen on Sunday as Cole Custer was the worst finisher on the team in 18th. However, all three Team Penske drivers really struggled. Brad Keselowski dealt with brake problems all afternoon, as wheel-hops sent him spinning multiple times. One of Keselowski’s spins took out teammate Joey Logano in turn one, forcing both drivers to pit with damage.

Logano won stage one of the race before pit stops shuffled him towards the middle of the field on the impending restart. The 31-year-old started to struggle in dirty air before being taken out by Keselowski, resulting in a 22nd place finish. Keselowski finished in 35th place, three laps down.

Blaney was the highest finisher of the three Team Penske cars but had issues of his own. He went for a spin in the bus stop on lap 25 and lost a lot of time, but rebounded to improve his finish.

Although Joey Logano has three top-5s on road courses this year, his teammates haven’t had nearly as much success as him. Blaney and Keselowski have one combined top-5 at road courses in 2021, and their finishes are trending downward.

“Our best road course this year was The Clash, but after that, we haven’t been great,” Blaney said prerace on Sunday. “Road America was a struggle for us, and we had our certain issues that we worked really hard to try and get better for this week (Watkins Glen). Hopefully they apply for this week, and we can make them even better for Indy next week, and then you hope you’re good for the ROVAL”.

While Blaney and the No. 12 team feel they could be headed in the right direction on road courses, Keselowski feels otherwise about his No. 2 team.

“There’s not a lot we can do with the rules freeze,” Keselowski said. “We’re kind of stuck where we are”.

With their wins earlier in the season, all three drivers are locked into the 2021 playoffs. However, with Ford and Team Penske struggling in the summer months, could the trio be headed for early playoff exits?